Point/Counterpoint: Is it time to hit the panic button on the Cincinnati Bengals? 

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow throws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Cincinnati. Photo by Darron Cummings/AP Photo.

It’s been a horrific season thus far for the Cincinnati Bengals. Fresh off a new mega contract, pro bowl quarterback Joe Burrow has not performed to expectations. Despite having elite receivers in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins to throw the ball to along with Joe Mixon as a quality RB1 option, the team’s situation has not gotten any better. With Bengals head coach Zac Taylor telling the media on Monday that Burrow may be out next Monday night against the Rams, Associate Sports Editor Evan Rodriguez and Staff Writer Sam Calhoun have come to debate on whether it’s time for Cincinnati to press the panic button in this week’s edition of point/counterpoint. 

Evan: I’ve gotta say to start off that I truly feel for Bengals fans. Not only is their team 0-2, but the potential concern of Cinninati’s QB1 missing time is certainly not something you want to hear. But, I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button just yet. First, it’s been just two games of the season and the first of those games were not ideal to play in. There is so much football to be played and plenty of time for a rebound from this team. 

Second, there’s still a ton of talent on this roster with Chase, Higgins, Mixon and Tyler Boyd. If Burrow is given some time to rest a few weeks, he’ll ideally be able to come back looking like the player that fans have come to love. While it may be rough to rest the former LSU star against a hot team like the Rams, they’ll be in much better shape against teams like the Cardinals and Titans, two 0-2 teams. If Cincinnati’s leader under center comes back after that three week break and things still aren’t clicking, then it’s certainly time to be worried. But, for now, I think there’s still plenty of hope even when it may seem like there is none at the moment. 

Sam: The Bengals have won back-to-back titles in the AFC North for the first time since the early 1980s. Burrow led the team to its first Super Bowl appearance since 1988, losing to the Los Angeles Rams. The following season, Cincinnati made the AFC Championship again, losing to the Chiefs. While many aren’t pressing the panic button two weeks into the season, I certainly am. Their depth at skill positions has weakened. Mixon is still the RB1, as he has been since 2018. However, with the departure of Samaje Perine, the team is more reliant on Mixon, with Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans and Chase Brown unproven. Despite retaining their top three wide receivers, Burrow seems to be more reluctant to target his tight ends, with Hayden Hurst leaving. They did replace him with Irv Smith Jr., but he has missed many games in the past two seasons, which is why the Vikings made the move to acquire T.J. Hockenson. In 2021, he missed the entire season with a torn meniscus and was placed on injured reserve in Week 8 of last season, returning for Minnesota’s Wild Card game against the Giants. Smith isn’t someone worth relying on, and who knows what Drew Sample and Mitchell Wilcox are capable of doing if Smith goes down. 

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Irv Smith Jr. reacts during the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Cincinnati. Photo by Darron Cummings/AP Photo.

Evan: As I stated in my previous response, I think a big reason that the Bengals are playing this way falls on Burrow. He just hasn’t been the same quarterback that led this team to the Super Bowl just a few seasons ago. It was certainly a mistake to force him out there for games this season and it’s only re-aggravated his lingering calf injury. That’s why I have optimism that if they do sit him through the easiest stretch of their schedule, they should be in much better shape as they go up against tougher opponents like the Chiefs and the Bills. I won’t argue with you that depth is definitely an issue with this team, but that doesn’t mean they can’t overcome that with their current talent on the roster. This is a roster full of playmakers and a healthy Burrow can certainly operate at an efficient rate with the weapons he has at his disposal. Could he certainly use someone like Smith more in his offense to shake it up and give defense a little bit of trouble? Sure, but when someone like Chase isn’t being utilized as he has in the past, that’s a far bigger concern in my eyes. This team has shown that they can be one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL when players like Chase and Burrow are clicking on all ends. That’s why it should be the priority of the Bengals organization to make sure that their star quarterback gets healthier, If they don’t, they may truly be in trouble. But for now, I’m not too nervous for Cincinnati just yet. 

Sam: We’ve talked only about the offense so far, but what about the defense? The Bengals’ secondary looks horrendous, with Jessie Bates III, Vonn Bell and Eli Apple gone, there’s no one too notable remaining. Cincinnati’s defense in general will be reliant on their pass rush to overcome some of the best offenses in the league, including the Chiefs, Bills, 49ers and Vikings. But with threats down the field such as Travis Kelce, Stefon Diggs, Justin Jefferson and Deebo Samuel, I’m reluctant to think the Bengals stand a chance in a lot of their games, especially if their offense plays the way they have been playing recently. I want to note that the offense is facing a lot of intimidating defenses. The 49ers are strong all around, with multiple All-Pros including edge rusher Nick Bosa. T.J. Watt is one of the best defensive players in the league, and the Bengals face him and the Steelers twice. They were held to just three points in Week 1 against the Browns, and Myles Garrett will create pressure during Week 18’s rematch at Paycor Stadium. I’m not a fan of the offensive line, and it worries me even more with a Week 3 matchup against the Rams with future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald. Three losses to begin the year would put the Bengals in a hole I’m not sure they can get out of. 

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